The mere mention of national powers North Dakota State and South Dakota State sheds light on some of the predictability across FCS college football.

But consider this: Last year, only five of the then-14 conference preseason polls correctly predicted their eventual winner, and only three of those five went on to become outright champions.

Or this one: Heading into last season, transfer quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. was known throughout the Southland Conference, but had yet to take a snap in a UIW program in which he would set the FCS record for touchdown passes and claim the Walter Payton Award.

Yes, a lot of unforeseen occurrences will take place across the 128-member FCS this season.

We’ve brought out the crystal ball again, but basically have to cross fingers about fearless predictions coming to fruition.

Enjoy, here’s to a memorable 2023 season.

Conference Champions

Big Sky: Montana State – The Bobcats have to navigate a difficult road schedule, including in-conference at Weber State, fellow 2022 co-champion Sacramento State, Idaho and Montana. (Conference Preview)

Big South-OVC: Southeast Missouri – The first-year conference merger appears to have a ringer with a loaded-up Redhawks’ lineup. (Conference Preview)

CAA: William & Mary – The defending co-champ has both the returning talent and schedule to sweep through the newly rebranded Coastal Athletic Association. (Conference Preview)

Ivy: Yale – Winning a second consecutive league title seems appropriate for a program celebrating its 150th season. (League Preview)

MEAC: North Carolina Central – After sharing the conference title with Howard, the 2022 Celebration Bowl champion Eagles want it all to themselves. (Conference Preview)

Missouri Valley: South Dakota State – The defending conference and national champion Jackrabbits own a four-game winning streak over North Dakota State. Yeah, wow. (Conference Preview)

Northeast: Saint Francis – In sweeping to the 2022 title, the Red Flash won all but one of their NEC games by 20+ points, and by 28 points on average. (Conference Preview)

Patriot: Holy Cross – The Crusaders seek to claim what would be a record fifth consecutive PL title. (League Preview)

Pioneer: St. Thomas – Even with a title repeat, the Tommies are ineligible for a playoff bid due to being in the third of a five-year transitional period from Division III. (League Preview)

Southern: Furman – A Paladins title would mean the SoCon has a different champion for the fifth straight season. (Conference Preview)

Southland: Southeastern Louisiana – Take your pick: It’s a two-team title race between the Lions and defending co-champion UIW. (Conference Preview)

SWAC: Florida A&M – The SWAC championship game will be held on Dec. 2, but the Rattlers’ Sept. 3 matchup with Jackson State feels just as important. (Conference Preview)

United Athletic: Central Arkansas – The Bears have put together an outstanding lineup for the rebranded ASUN-WAC’s first true conference schedule. (Conference Preview)

FCS National Awards, Presented by FedEx Ground

Walter Payton Award (Offensive Player of the Year): Michael Hiers, QB, Samford – Finished fourth in the 2022 Payton voting as a junior, ranking sixth in the FCS in passing yards (3,544) and fourth in touchdown passes (36) with just four interceptions. In the last 15 seasons, only one other FCS QB James Madison’s Cole Johnson in 2019) had as few picks among the 26 with 36+ TD passes. (Preseason Watch List)

Buck Buchanan Award (Defensive Player of the Year): David Walker, DE, Central Arkansas – Was third in the 2022 Buchanan voting as a sophomore, and his 22 tackles for loss and 107 yards in losses both represent the high among returning FCS defensive players. A dozen of his 66 total tackles were sacks. (Preseason Watch List)

Eddie Robinson Award (Coach of the Year): Bob Chesney, Holy Cross – If the Crusaders beat an FBS opponent for a third consecutive season and set the Patriot League record with a fifth straight title, the 46-year-old Chesney may move up from last year’s tie for fourth in the Robinson voting.

FCS Playoffs

Automatic Qualifiers: Central Arkansas (UAC), Davidson (PFL), Furman (SoCon), Holy Cross (Patriot), Montana State (Big Sky), Saint Francis (NEC), South Dakota State (MVFC), Southeastern Louisiana (Southland), Southeast Missouri (Big South-OVC) and William & Mary (CAA)

At-Large Bids: Idaho, Mercer, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Rhode Island, Richmond, Sacramento State, Samford, Southern Illinois, UC Davis, UIW and Villanova

National Championship Game: South Dakota State defeats North Dakota State in a rematch of last year’s final, marking the eighth time a program wins two or more consecutive FCS championships. Additionally, Jimmy Rogers becomes the eighth head coach to win the title in his first season.

Celebration Bowl

North Carolina Central (MEAC) repeats as champion under coach Trei Oliver, defeating Florida A&M (SWAC).